The Lonely Londoners was written by Trinidad-born author Sam Selvon, and like most of his later work focusses of the experiences of West Indians emigrating to Britain in the 1950s and 60s. As I said in my monthly round-up for August, I was introduced to the book by my sister's boyfriend, which I'm really pleased about, as I really enjoyed it.
The Plot: Newly arrived in London, Henry 'Sir Galahad' Oliver is met at Waterloo Station by Moses, who has already lived in the city for years and is willing to share his hard won knowledge. London can be an unwelcoming place, with hostile locals, but 'the boys' (young men from the West Indies) come together in dance halls and run-down rented flats to form a supportive community.
The narrative and dialogue The Lonely Londoners is written in creolised English, which gives the novel an authentic feeling voice. The syntax and colloquialisms can take some getting used to, but it was my favourite part of the novel. The use of creolised English refines the narrative voice, it makes it very clear who's perspective the story is been told from and it helps make the novel so vibrant and alive.
I was surprised how funny the novel is, there are reoccurring jokes and a scene about a pigeon that had me properly sniggering. All the characters have their quirks and eccentricities, like Big City who due to a mishearing calls 'music' 'fusic', or Cap an expert scrounger and womaniser who accidentally gets married. Even parts that are actually tragic, such as the xenophobic, racist newspaper articles are given a humorous twist, as the young men wryly reference the belief that 'the streets are paved with gold'.
Though The Lonely Londoners creates a vivid snapshot in time of 50s-60s immigration and the Windrush Generation, similarities can be seen today in how immigrants are still viewed in Britain. There is still public fear about 'people coming over hear and taking our jobs' and you only need to look at the rising popularity of UKIP and the nationalist rhetoric to see little has changed in terms of attitude, though the target these views are aimed at has, with Polish and Romanians now bearing the brunt. The novel has a lot to say about culture, community and assimilation which makes it relevant and topical today.
If you're a fan of Zadie Smith's White Teeth or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, The Lonely Londoner is definitely worth a try.